February 5, 2021

How a women’s self-help group saved an entire village

The story of a self-help group that boosted livelihoods and household incomes in Odisha, depicted through Madhubani art.

2 min read
Madhubani art scene depicting Kanjariguda, Odisha-self-help group

In Koraput district, Odisha, lies a remote village called Kanjariguda, home to an Adivasi community of farmers who predominantly grow ragi and rice. The village is so remote that villagers have to walk several kilometres—across forests and mountains—to hull their rice or access basic services such as mobile charging, photocopying, or printing.

Madhubani art scene depicting a rice mill and women-self-help group

In 2019, a women’s self-help group (SHG) established a decentralised rice and millet milling centre in Kanjariguda. This eased the drudgery that came with a lack of access to a mill, for more than 500 rice farmers and 270 ragi farmers. Earlier, they had to spend much more time and money to get basic work done. Now, the income generated by the centre is equally divided amongst the SHG members.

Madhubani art scene depicting various gadgets being powered by the rice mill-self-help group

Apart from milling, the centre also offers other essential services such as printing and mobile charging—services that are in high demand as they are needed for school work, government documentation, and other purposes. Everything at the centre is powered by solar energy.

Madhubani art scene showing many people coming to the rice mill-self-help group

During the COVID-19 lockdown, Kanjariguda went into a strict lockdown, alongside other villages in the district. Later, when shops began to open up, the disruptive power cuts and lack of access to diesel (for those reliant on generators) made it difficult to get work done.

So, local nonprofits took it upon themselves to spread news of the functional solar-powered centre to nearby villages. Within a few weeks, people from 17 villages in a 12-15 km radius began coming to the centre for essential services. This increased the mill’s demand and income, helping farmers in these uncertain times.

Madhubani art scene showing solar power-self-help group

Solar-powered equipment (in an area that experiences frequent and long power cuts) made the centre seem reliable. New customers, recognising its convenience, continue to use it even post-lockdown.

Madhubani art scene showing women self-help group and ragi

Rajani Jani, the president of the SHG and Rai Jani, its secretary, say, “Farmers get milling services within a very short distance. We have been moving from village to village to share information about our milling machine. Spreading the message this way has been very effective in promoting our business. Ragi is very nutritious—especially for young children, as well as pregnant and lactating women. We plan to start sale of ragi powder to the nearby anganwadi centres, to ensure a supply of nutritious food for the children.”

Madhubani art scene showing a tree growing from a rice mill-self-help group

One of the biggest challenges going forward, for entrepreneurs from poor households and those who are restarting their businesses, will be their ability to take risks. Decentralised livelihood models (driven by sustainable energy) that build on existing local institutions like SHGs allow for risk to be shared, while also benefitting the whole community.

This story was sourced from ‘Let’s Rise Up’, a campaign by SELCO Foundation and IKEA Foundation.

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  • Reach out to the All India Artisans and Craftworkers Welfare Association (AIACA) to learn how you can support artisans and craftworkers.
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Pradyumna Kumar-Image
Pradyumna Kumar

Pradyumna Kumar, from Muzaffarpur, Bihar, is the first Indian to ever win the prestigious UNESCO Noma Concours in Japan in 2006, as well as 2008. After a surgery cost him his job as a land surveyor, Pradyumna took to art, influenced by Madhubani traditional style, making improvisations on themes and topics. His works are in permanent collections at the National Museums in Liverpool, the Mingei International Folk Art Museum in San Diego, and QAGOMA in Brisbane. He is also the author and illustrator of two books.

Pushpa Kumari-Image
Pushpa Kumari

Pushpa Kumari is a younger generation Madhubani Mithila artist who has retained the Mithila paintings’ distinctive styles and conventions, while addressing new subjects such as women’s rights in India. Her works continue to draw on the theme of sexuality. Pushpa was trained by her grandmother, the acclaimed Mithila artist Maha Sundari Devi, one of the pioneering Madhubani artists to work on paper. Selling work since the age of 12, Pushpa’s uniqueness lies in her desire to experiment and develop new themes and treatments.